1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
If you’re just joining us, this is our third week in this passage. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, after writing to a group of exiled, suffering Christians concerning Jesus and all that he accomplished, concerning God’s call for his people to live holy lives, and concerning the need for Christians to continue subjecting themselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, it’s as if—in our passage for this morning—Peter took a deep breath and offered a handful of summary thoughts on how, in light of all of that, Christians ought to think and act in times of suffering if they are to honor God. That is, in short, Peter offered 12 essential thoughts on how God’s people are to navigate the various trials that come our way.
- The deep emotive side of mature Christ-following (3:13).
- The evil-binding role of the unbeliever’s conscience (3:13).
- The judgment of God causing the searing of conscience (3:14).
- Suffering for righteousness’ sake leading to blessing (3:14, 17).
- The inherent fearlessness of the Christian life (3:14).
- The source of Christian fearlessness (3:15).
- The visible nature of genuine, Christian hope (3:15).
- The proper response to persecution (3:15).
- The proper disposition of the proper response to persecution (3:16).
- The proper aim of the proper response to persecution (3:16).
- The relationship between God’s will and your suffering (3:17).
- The Christian’s role in executing justice (3:17).
So far we’ve considered the first six of these. This morning, we’ll consider the next four. Please join me in praying that we’d all be amazed by God’s amazing plan for our lives and his amazing Grace to accomplish it.
THE VISIBLE NATURE OF GENUINE, CHRISTIAN HOPE
Imagine a massive fire spreading throughout a massive building. As the smoke billows and the flames pour out, and as the sirens blare in the background, imagine what the people inside would be doing. Whatever images come to your mind, I’m confident they include running, screaming, crying, and chaos in general. You wouldn’t expect to see people calmly walking around in a scenario like that.
In fact, that’s why it’s all but required that every action movie have a scene where the hero walks calmly away from an explosion. Calm in the midst of chaos really stands out. It’s noticeable. It’s impressive. It’s heroic. And it begs for an explanation.
That brings us back to our text this morning. If God’s people live the way Peter commands, it will have the same effect. The scene for Peter’s readers, once again, was one of chaos and struggle and suffering. They were being persecuted on every side. In the midst of that, Peter wrote to them to call them to fearlessness and peace. Should they obey, like the explosion-backdropped, lonely hero in the movies, they would stand out and people would wonder about the source of their calm, of their peace, and of their hope.
That’s the essence of 1 Peter 3:13-15 “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”.
When Christians truly surrender themselves to Jesus as Lord, zealously do good according to the command and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, experience persecution for their zealous goodness in the name of Jesus, and respond to the persecution in confidence and calm (rather than fear and a troubled heart), people will notice and they will ask for a reason. Surrendering wholly to Jesus and responding to suffering with joyful strength is not what people expect to see. It stands out. It is noticeable. It is impressive. It is heroic. And it begs for an explanation.
The question that each of us must ask, then, is, “Is anyone asking about my hope?”. Do people look at you in the midst of trial and ask for a reason behind your noticeably fearless and troubleless demeanor? Do you look different enough from everyone else that anyone would take notice?
Peter’s point is that those who truly regard Christ the Lord as holy, who zealously do good works in the face of opposition, and who remain confident and peaceful in the midst of persecution will look different enough to draw attention. Christian hope is different from other kinds of lesser hope. Christian hope is always noticeable.
THE PROPER RESPONSE TO PERSECUTION
But what do we do when others take notice? That’s where Peter turns his attention next.
Again, consider 1 Peter 3:14-15, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”.
In this verse, Peter names two specific actions that God’s people must take. One is an action of preparation and one is an action of response.
First, in preparation for the inevitable questions about their hope, Peter instructs his readers to be ready. We musn’t be caught off guard, we musn’t be surprised, when people ask us about why we live differently than everyone else.
I remember handing out water and Gatorade on the bike path a number of years ago. Our aim was to bless others in order that they’d ask about the reason behind our blessing. It was a particularly hot day and so a number of people were happily stopping. Most of the time people quickly grabbed a cold drink and then kept going. One person, however, stopped, accepted a drink, thanked us, and then asked, “Why are you guys doing this?”. In spite of the fact that we’d talked and prayed about this and in spite of the fact that that question was the very reason we were doing what we were doing, I watched as the people at our table froze up. Evidently, we were not prepared enough.
For some, this kind of freeze up may result from failing to prepare properly in the way of knowledge. Perhaps we need help understanding and explaining the gospel in a culturally relevant way. Others may need to prepare by considering likely responses to sharing the gospel or living according to it and learning how to helpfully respond to them. Looking back at this particular instance, however, I think the real lack of preparedness in our group wasn’t about training or expectation, it was about truly regarding Christ the Lord as holy. There was fear that resulted from failing to prepare by disavowing lesser lords.
Christians, if we are to honor God and bless unbelievers in our times of suffering—which God calls all of us to do—we must prepare our minds and hearts. We must expect people to notice our different beliefs and way of life and be prepared to respond in God-honoring ways.
Second, in response, Peter lists one specific way that God’s people can honor God in the way we respond to questions about our hope. That is, he offers one thing that Christians must especially be prepared to do: make a defense of our hope. We must be prepared, Peter wrote, to offer an explanation, a reason, a foundation for our seemingly strange behavior in light of our seemingly misplaced hope.
When we think and feel and act according to the gospel, to the holy lordship of Jesus, we will look different (especially in times of suffering) than those who do not. In fact, at times we’ll think and feel and act so differently that people will take notice and ask why things are so different with us. If we are to honor God we must be prepare for such questions and then we must reply with real, honest, salty answers.
The word used by Peter (always being prepared to make a defense…”) is the word from which the branch of Christian philosophy known as “apologetics” comes. The discipline of apologetics seeks to give reasonable answers to common questions about Christian belief and doctrine; to defend Christian claims from . Among the questions considered by apologists are: What evidence is there for the existence of God?; How can God and evil coexist?; How can God’s sovereignty and free will coexist?; etc.
Peter’s point, however, is not that every Christian needs to be able to answer every question that a skeptic might ask (although that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing). That’s not what he means by “always being prepared to make a defense.” Instead, he simply means that every Christian must be prepared to defend their actions by giving the ultimate reason for the hope that drives them: the hope that the exemplary life, sacrificial death, and vindicating resurrection of Jesus was an acceptable and sufficient payment for our sins, and that the result is our certain salvation through faith.
The ultimate defense of our strange fearlessness and peace and hope in times of trouble is the gospel. Every Christian, Peter wrote, must be prepared to explain the gospel as the ultimate reason for our differentness.
“Your life seems to be falling apart. How can you be so calm?”
“Because, through his death on my behalf, Jesus has given me new life, new hope, and new purpose. I know that the chaos around me is temporary and only for my ultimate good. What’s more, I know that whatever suffering I must endure in this life only adds to my eternal blessing in the next. I might not be able to answer every question you have about that, but I can tell you this much with complete confidence and certainty, and I’m free to truly love you in spite of the harm you mean me.”
Again, the prerequisite to all of this is that our lives truly cause others to ask. The good news, however, is that for those who are truly hoping in Jesus God’s Spirit is already at work in us making this so.
All of this leads to Peter’s next point.
THE PROPER DISPOSITION OF THE PROPER RESPONSE TO PERSECUTION
Peter gives instructions not only about what God’s people must do when asked about the reason for our hope, but also about the attitude with which we must do it. “…yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience in your hearts…”.
In the face of persecution, it can be difficult to imagine giving a godly response to our persecutors. It can be even more difficult to imagine giving it with love and kindness. And yet, that’s exactly what Peter charges his readers (including you and I) with. Specifically, he calls for God’s people to share the gospel with those who witness our fear and troubleless suffering with gentleness, respect, and a good conscience.
Rather than the frustration or anger we may be tempted to respond to our persecution and persecutors with, Peter tells us to respond gently. In our family we see gentleness responded to with gentleness all the time. On the other hand, shamefully, harshness is often responded to with harshness. In fact, if we’re honest, all too often the attitude of others is used and even defended as justification for our own.
Peter commands his readers to maintain a different standard: the example and commands of Jesus. Jesus remained gentle toward his persecutors even as his persecution increased to crucifixion. He did not fight back. He did not demand his rights. He did not even raise his voice. He remained gentle and so must we.
I’ll never forget the time a famed Christian apologist gave a lecture to interested professors at my undergraduate university. As a new Christian I was amazed by his handling of the bible, history, logic, and rhetoric. At the end of his lecture on the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus, one skeptical professor confidently and condescendingly proclaimed that he found the stolen-body hypothesis to be quite compelling.
I remember feeling defensive, upset, and even a bit angry that he’d be so directly confrontational and dismissive. I also remember waiting for, wanting, and even expecting the Christian lecturer to give a scathing, perhaps even sarcastic, response. Instead, with a gentleness that caught me completely off guard, he explained the lack of any serious scholarly support for that argument (even among secular scholars) for many decades. He then kindly suggested that the man consider the current literature more carefully. His reply not only upheld the dignity of his challenger, it also landed a far more serious blow than any emotional outburst could have.
Again, I’m convinced, first by Peter’s words, but also by my own personal experience, that the source of a truly gentle response to questions and even attacks comes only from genuine submission to Jesus as lord. When he is our Lord, we do not need to worry about our reputation or safety (he’ll take care of both, for us and himself), and are therefore free to truly love our adversary. And love begets gentleness.
We are to have gentleness for our questioner and respect for God (“yet do it with gentleness and respect “). A better translation for “respect” is probably “reverence” or even “fear”. We are to give a defense for our hope-filled actions with a great humility before God, in the full knowledge that our sole aim is to glorify and enjoy him forever. We must not forget that God is in charge, not us; that God’s reputation is paramount, not ours; and that we are ultimately accountable to God, not others. Our responses must be given in full submission to God.
I can’t tell you how many times as a new believer a doctrinal discussion turned into a prideful debate. I often witnessed (and participated in) people discussing free will or the reliability of the bible or the nature of the person of Jesus with frustration and condescension and the sole aim of winning an argument. There was no gentleness and no reverence. The result was that everyone left frustrated and God was all but forgotten. We knew that this was wrong and inevitably regretted our approach.
On the other hand, when gentleness and reverence are our disposition, a good conscience will be the result. That is, because gentleness and reverence are so clearly consistent with the gospel, we act accordingly in the knowledge that they are helpful to our questioner and honoring to God.
THE PROPER AIM OF THE PROPER RESPONSE TO PERSECUTION
Finally, in the end, having acted in faithful obedience to Peter’s words, what is our hope or expectation? Peter tells us. We are to willingly endure persecution for doing good, set apart Jesus as Lord, remember that we’ll be blessed, act in holiness, be prepared for people to question our response, and then give a gentle, reverent reason for our hope in God “so that” Peter wrote, “when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
In a very real sense, our aim is the shame of God’s enemies.
There are at least two ways in which this will come true. As we saw in v. 13, because of the God-given evil-binding conscience inside of all people, our hope is that there is a shaming that will take place immediately. If we are helping the poor or caring for the sick or tending to the orphan or widow and an unbeliever reviles us (speaks ill of us) for it, there is a good chance that God’s image-bearers, even those who do not know or accept the fact that they bear his image, will look down upon the unbeliever. That is, it’s not hard to imagine even non-Christians shaming non-Christians who get in the way of Christians doing those types of good works.
And yet, because of the sinfulness of sin, this type of shame is not guaranteed. The only kind of shame is guaranteed is the kind that will come at the last day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). At that time, every act of unrighteous persecution (that is, every persecuted act of righteousness) will be clearly seen for what it was and the only result will be shame.
Our hope is that our behavior would honor God and lead unbelievers to repentance. And yet, within those desires is the realization that sin is disgusting, deplorable, evil, reprehensible—especially the kind that despises good—and that shame at having committed it is the only proper response.
What does Peter call us to do in this passage? Live consistently with the promises of the gospel rather than the wisdom of the world at all times (especially times of suffering).
What does Peter tell us to expect when we do? Further persecution, but also questions concerning our strange behavior.
How does Peter tell us to respond when we encounter these things? Continue doing good and be ready to explain the gospel that drives us.
What should be our disposition as we do good and explain the gospel? Gentleness toward our persecutors and questioners and reverence toward God.
What will result from all of this? Lord willing, the salvation of our persecutors. Lord promised, their shame—even in this life or the next.
None of this is consistent with “common sense” but it is consistent with the gospel of Jesus. And none of this is possible in our own strength but it is possible (even inevitable) in the strength of Christ. May we all do so today, Grace, and therein honor God, strengthen the Church, and minister to the unbelieving world. Amen.